Uganda is privileged to host an international preparatory meeting for the forthcoming World Telecommunications Standardization Assembly (WTSA), one of the structures of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), in Entebbe from Monday, 7th to 11th October 2019.
Stakeholders in various roles within the telecommunications industry across Africa and the world, will be converging in Uganda this week to formulate an African position regarding global telecommunication’s standards.
Based in Geneva, Switzerland, ITU is a specialized agency of the United Nations responsible for information and communication technology-related matters.
For more than 150 years, ITU has worked with stakeholders around the world to support co-operation in the global communications eco-system, telecommunications infrastructure development and radio frequency allocation.
In performing this role, ITU works through three sectors:
- Radiocommunication Sector (ITU-R);
- Telecommunication Standardization Sector (ITU-T); and
- Telecommunication Development Sector (ITU-D).
Each sector’s work programmes are defined by an assembly or conference held every four years; the World Radio Communications (WRC); World Telecommunication Standardization Assembly (WTSA) and World Telecommunication Development Conference (WTDC).
The World Telecommunications Standardization Assembly (WTSA), which like the others is held every four years, sets the agenda of the International Telecommunications Union – Standardization Sector (ITU – T) for the next 4 years.
Accordingly, WTSA-20 will take place in Hyderabad, India, in November 2020, and will be preceded by the Global Standards Symposium. The last such assembly, WTSA-16, was held in Yasmine Hammamet, Tunisia, from 25th October to 3rd November 2016.
In order to build regional consensus on the key issues ahead of every World Telecommunications Standardization Assembly (WTSA), regional preparatory meetings are held in the different ITU geographical regions. It is in that regard that Uganda and Morocco were selected to host the 1st and 2nd regional preparatory meetings for Africa.
Consequently, at the Imperial Golf View Hotel in Entebbe, from 7th – 11th October, Africa’s telecommunications experts, government officials, private sector players and academia will brainstorm and harmonize a common Africa position on globally contentious issues in telecommunications standardisation issues ahead of WTSA 2020.
Why telecommunications standards matter?
Telecommunications Standards are necessary because they define how the telecommunications ecosystem interoperate. This ensures that ICT users can access and use all products and services (voice, video, data messages, devices) regardless of geographical location, service provider or equipment manufacturer.
Global standards also help to address the digital divide between developed and developing countries. They ensure that technology developed can be consumed or shared by developing countries regardless of its origin.
With tremendous innovation and new technological trends such as Artificial Intelligence, Internet of Things or 5G, standards are even more critical in helping to create a baseline of interoperability. Thus they help achieve volumes, leading to economies of scale.
Below are some of the areas that underline the importance of standardization within the scope of telecommunications and ICTs:
Operational aspects of telecommunications’ service provision – Standards help in the assigning of international network codes as well as consumer numbering systems that allocate both user devices and their networks unique identities.
For communication to happen, local and international networks interface and connect in order to ensure that consumers on different local and international networks can freely interact.
Economic and policy issues – These standards define and provide international benchmarks of the economic issues that are involved within the provision and use of ICT services. They help to develop recommendations that balance business (profitability) and consumer interests (quality and affordability of services e.g. caller rates, international roaming) and how they can be achieved locally and regionally.
Protocols and test specifications – Given the different ICT device brands, ITU has developed minimum test requirements that ensure that all devices meet the minimum product quality. These test specifications are what ITU member states, including Uganda, rely on when carrying out equipment and device type approval to protect consumers from inferior and counterfeit ICT devices and equipment.
Quality of service – ITU has developed and continues to develop the minimum quality of ICT service standards that can enhance user experience and further adoption of ICT products and services.
Environment and the circular economy – Cognizant of the amount of e-waste generated from the vast innovations in the digital age, ITU has developed standards and regulations on how the ICT ecosystem, including governments, industry, academia and consumers can work together to mitigate the negative outcomes in the form of e-waste.
Security – ITU, in collaboration with other industry stakeholders, has developed and continues to develop minimum acceptable interventions in the ICT ecosystem to ensure that all players (device manufacturers, policymakers, users, network providers) adhere to the minimum requirements. With that, the consumers’ data and overall digital security are guaranteed as a means of building user confidence in the use of ICTs.
Digital trends – With the ongoing digital revolution manifested in trends such as Artificial Intelligence, Internet of Things, Smart Cities and Communities, the standards development group works to ensure that users/consumers of ICT products and services have a seamless experience without having to worry about the intricacies of who their service provider is, or who their device manufacturer is.
Given that areas of interest in ICT standardization continue to evolve, and that many are addressed by multiple standardization bodies, coordination among national, international and industry players is very critical.
As such, in order to ensure that the standards are fully representative of the ICT ecosystem, locally and internationally, standards development involves industry players (providers of ICT services); device and equipment manufacturers (providers of ICT devices and equipment); academia; and policymakers, and the local standardization body.
Uganda’s lead role in the preparatory process for WTSA will enable the Commission, a key stakeholder in Uganda’s telecommunications’ standardization ecosystem, to align to the latest priority sector areas in standardization while ensuring that Uganda’s needs and interests as a developing country are taken into account in the development of global telecommunications standards as well as the critical areas of study for the next four years.
What are Uganda’s areas of interest?
Numbering resource – Uganda seeks clearer calling line identification information. Currently, it is difficult to trace the sources of nuisance calls or the location of a caller in emergency situations. Number spoofing is another challenge. Callers are still able to manipulate caller identification (caller ID) information in order to falsify their name and phone number. This can easily facilitate fraud and other adverse activities.
E-waste digital gap – Africa and Uganda remain a dumping ground for used and obsolete electrical and electronic equipment because of affordability and the limitations in equipment manufacturing and affordability. There is a need to bridge the gap between developed and developing countries, keeping in mind the product’s life cycle. This is prevalent as a reflection of the digital gap where technology identified as obsolete in the developed countries is still considered relevant in the developing world.
Climate change –There is a need to emphasize the role of ICTs in combating global climate change-related issues. Uganda is interested in the clear articulation of Africans’ socio-economic dependency on agriculture and how this sector is affected by climate change; as well as possible interventions to climate change through harnessing ICTs.
OTT regulation– Uganda is proposing an African Union declaration on all OTT related issues. While Africa is a net user of OTTs such as Facebook and Twitter, regulators are hard-pressed to protect consumers, their personal data, pricing and to regulate competition-related matters involving multinational OTTs in their markets.
Besides, OTT revenue flows remain skewed against African Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) and infrastructure providers from whose networks OTTs thrive.
Digital financial products and services – New momentum in digital fiat currencies necessitate prioritization of mobile network infrastructure to support and facilitate this new world.
Decisions and recommendations that will come out of the preparatory meeting will be published in print and electronic media. The public is also invited to visit the UCC, ITU and ATU websites and social media handles for details of the deliberations.